Today’s Top Opinion: The Wrong Lesson

January 11, 2015

By Richmond Times-Dispatch at Richmond Times-Dispatch

In many ways the University of Richmond is everything a college ought to be, right down to the Gothic buildings nestled in a sylvan retreat. But in one regard it exemplifies the worst of contemporary academia.

U of R has just been singled out for the dubious “Speech Codes of the Year” distinction from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “While all of the Speech Codes of the Month flagrantly violated students’ or faculty members’ right to free expression, two of them were so egregious that they deserve special mention,” the group says. The U of R joins Penn State as this year’s recipients.

The university’s student code of conduct — all 34 pages of it — prohibits, among much else, “disruption,” which includes not only those things that are truly disruptive (such as blocking entrance to a school function) but also “inappropriate behavior or expression.”

The policy does not define “inappropriate,” which leaves the administration free to punish a student for doing, or saying, literally anything at all. To make matters worse, the school’s prohibition against inappropriate expression is not some long-forgotten relic, like a rule against hitching horses to lampposts. The school updated the policy less than a year ago.

The U of R is a private institution, which frees it from some of the constitutional constraints public universities are (in theory) obliged to observe. But we doubt the school’s leadership would say its private status therefore entitles it to discriminate on the basis of race (nor do we think the school has any interest in doing so). Why, then, should it treat the principle of free speech as any less worthy of official recognition and adoption than the principle of equal protection?

Schools: University of Richmond